When my first son was born, my wife and I had the nearly full-time help of my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law and still we were overwhelmed and run ragged by the demands of caring for a newborn baby. Almost eight years later (and with two more kids added to the mix), we’re even more tired and worn out. I simply could not imagine how much work it must be to raise children without the help of friends and family, let alone as a single parent. And yet, many amazing people manage to do just that. According to some researchers, however, that may not be such a good thing.
According to statistician Stephanie Ventura, children born out of wedlock “are at a higher risk of having adverse birth outcomes such as lower birth weight, preterm birth and infant mortality than are children born to married women.” Ventura also noted that “children born to single mothers typically have more limited social and financial resources.”
Terri Combs-Orme, a professor in the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work, sees the problem of single parenting as one of devotion — or lack thereof. Her belief is that what’s important in a child’s life are the people devoted to caring for the child. Single parenting “cuts in half the number of people who are utterly devoted to that child,” she says. Combs-Orme notes, however, that almost as important are the parent’s financial resources. While it’s not necessary to be independently wealthy to raise a child, having enough income to pay the bills certainly helps.
Not having to worry about money means less stress for parents, better opportunities for education and experience for the kids, and more. Specifically, Combs-Orme says, “poor children suffer disadvantages compared to their more advantaged peers in virtually every area, including health, cognitive development, social development, mental and emotional health, and school achievement. Moreover, the effects of poverty are long-lasting – higher rates of delinquency, school drop-out and adolescent pregnancy clearly place poor children at a disadvantage with regard to achievement and quality of life as they enter adulthood.”
But all is not lost. Most children of single parents — and, for better or for worse, single parents are a fact of life today — turn out just fine. And for those for need a bit of help, it’s in our best interest as a society to provide it. If not simply because it’s the right thing to do, then because it will, in the long run, save us all a lot of money.